How Bell and Farmers Edge are creating precision agriculture with IoT applications
Precision agriculture gives farmers unprecedented control over their growing operations. Rich data collected through sensor networks provide insight into everything from plant health and equipment performance to weather impacts and topographical variations. Armed with those kinds of analytics, farmers can improve crop performance, boost yields and use equipment and resources more efficiently.
More and more farmers are seeing the advantages of precision agriculture – but Internet of Things (IoT) solution providers face challenges delivering those benefits.
“The need for a reliable and secure mobile network is the same whether a solution provider is in manufacturing, transportation or any other sector,” says Bell Mobility IoT Account Executive Joshua Pathinathan. “With agriculture, there’s additional pressure on the network component because farms can be remote and vast.”
That pressure is what motivated global IoT solution provider Farmers Edge to switch to Bell as its Canadian network provider in 2015, which gained the company considerable service improvements. Farmers Edge chose Bell in part due to Bell’s service offering and the strength of its network and in part because of its commitment to precision agriculture, including its investments in the University of Manitoba’s agriculture program.
BRINGING IoT TO THE FARM
Farmers Edge is on a mission to extend the benefits of precision agriculture to farmers across Canada and around the world. With deep roots in agronomy consulting, the company comes to the IoT space with “dirt on its boots”, in the words of its Chief Strategy Officer, Ron Osborne. Its variable rate solution suite provides everything from crop monitoring and digital agronomy to satellite imaging and integrated farm data management.
What makes Farmers Edge unique is its integration of multiple applications and technologies in a single, easy-to-build-on package for farmers.
“Farmers don’t have the time or technology focus to stitch together individual point solutions on their own,” Osborne explains, “It’s always been important to us to relieve that burden so operators can concentrate on farming.”
A GOOD PITCH ISN’T ENOUGH
Osborne says farmers are highly practical. When they hear a marketing claim, their first response is, “Prove it.” To respond, IoT solution providers like Farmers Edge need to ensure their applications are running on a network with the coverage and reliability to perform. Without the right network reach, solutions simply can’t deliver their full value.
While reliability always matters, the more complex a farm operation is, and the more reliant it becomes on real-time data tools, the less tolerance there is for latency or dropped connections. When downtime could risk grinding activity to a halt, reliable performance is non-negotiable.
In evaluating its needs, Farmers Edge knew it also had to keep its devices and their data transmissions secure. Unauthorized users cannot be allowed to control sensors or access a farm operator’s information. For many IoT solution providers, this makes security as important a network feature as coverage and reliability.
A WHOLE NEW KNOWLEDGE BASE
Because IoT solution providers like Farmers Edge are delivering a service, when issues arise, their customers want answers. Part of the reason Farmers Edge selected Bell Mobility as its Canadian network partner was because Bell could offer an IoT-specialized help desk to support resolution.
“When you run IoT applications on a mobile network, you need different skills and expertise than you do for general mobile voice and data,” says Pathinathan. “We’ve put a lot of effort into building up that IoT-specific knowledge base because we know that when our customers get a call from their customers, they have to be able to access expert support around the clock.”
Support is one dimension of the kind of overall IoT platform solution providers like Farmers Edge are looking for to get their technologies into the hands of users and fulfill their potential. That platform ideally also needs to support activation, configuration and management of devices – with the ability to integrate data from the network into the service provider’s own systems, or through to their subscribers as part of their application offering.
“A lot of IoT companies today are very focused,” says Ken Gouveia, Bell Mobility’s Director of Business Development. “They have a great application, or a great sensor, and they’re looking not just for a network but for a partner to support deployment and operation. And then there are companies like Farmers Edge that have an extremely robust offering that needs very sophisticated technology behind it. In every case, the expectation is that we’re going to serve as a seamless extension of their operations.”
Bell offers an IoT starter kit and proof of concept capabilities to allow providers to test and verify the effectiveness of solutions ahead of wide-scale deployment. And for international companies like Farmers Edge, Bell’s coverage, which extends around the world through global partnerships, is a considerable asset.
“With Bell as our partner, we don’t worry or question whether or not infrastructure will be there, or whether someone will think we’re working with an untested business partner that will present systemic risk” says Osborne. “Bell gives us peace of mind in brand and infrastructure, and that’s important to us.”
Want more information and advice on how Bell Mobility can support the deployment of IoT solutions? Visit our IoT page for more information.